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The Play’s the Thing

Lee Blessing ’71 hasn’t given up performing for his fellow Reedies. He’ll be back for Reunions 2006, with a talk entitled “Surviving Your Play,” about the challenge of sustaining a writing career in today’s arts world. Blessing made his Broadway debut as a playwright in 1988 with A Walk in the Woods (Tony and Olivier nominations, Pulitzer finalist, American Theatre Critics Association Award). The play has since been produced in London and Moscow, and it appeared on American Playhouse on PBS. Blessing is the author of more than 20 plays and screenplays produced around the world, including Fortinbras, The Scottish Play, and A Body of Water (finalist, 2005 Steinberg/American Theatre Critics Association Award). Currently, he is head of the graduate playwriting program at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts.

“Surviving Your Play” will be held on the Reed campus on Saturday, June 3, from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. View reigstration information for Reunions 2006.

Dance, meanwhile, has been a stepchild since its introduction as a discipline at Reed in 1968. The department shares Watzek with the physical education department, making it next to impossible to schedule classes or rehearsals in the evenings when PE classes are held. Plus, the department can’t bring professional dance companies to campus. “There’s money in the budget,” says Wong, “there just isn’t a venue.” To stage even a student dance concert in Kaul requires reserving the space well in advance—it takes a full week to install lights, curtains, and flooring. “What we set up in Kaul for our student concerts isn’t technologically speaking anywhere near what professional companies want and need,” says Wong.

Over at the theatre building, faculty offer a litany of shortcomings. The facility is tucked into the edge of Reed canyon overlooking a dark, wooded ravine. It has little backstage area, the set-building shop is located two blocks away, the two performance spaces can’t be used at the same time, and there’s no handicapped access. Built with $100,000 in insurance money from the fire that destroyed the old student union/theatre facility in 1969, the current facility hasn't kept up with the needs of the department.

Eric Overmyer ’73, a New York-based playwright and screenwriter who has written for Law & Order and HBO’s The Wire, staged his thesis show in the theatre in 1976. “It was just an empty square room,” he recalls. “Drafty, bad acoustics.” Pulitzer Prize- and Tony Award-nominated playwright Lee Blessing ’71 has similar memories of hardship. “We always assumed that they built the new theatre the way they did in case they ever got rid of the theatre department at Reed,” he says. “That way they could turn it into a warehouse.”

Overmyer was a theatre major, Blessing, a lit major. They both entered in 1969 and soon became friends and housemates, acting together in productions all over campus. The men’s gym, for example, was the makeshift setting for a production of Samuel Beckett’s Endgame. Blessing, who now teaches at Rutgers University’s Mason Gross School of the Arts, remembers, “You walked into a very large white balloon that was being inflated with a fan. Eric played Hamm; I played Nag. I think the concept was to make us freeze to death. Roger Porter, the director, had Nag and his wife, Nell, in these oil drums, and he wanted us naked from the waist up. So we were, and in body paint. Roger forgot that with the moving air we’d freeze. So he finally granted us sheets.”

Porter remembers the play, but not the sheets. And he’s not losing sleep over the actors’ hardship on stage, either. “After all, you’re supposed to suffer in Beckett’s world,” he says.

And how did such meager theatrical resources rear such successful progeny? “It might have been because nobody cared what we did—so we went ahead and did it,” Overmyer says. “Theatre’s such an impoverished art form anyway, that [lack of resources] often works to your advantage because you have to use your imagination.”

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Lee Blessing ’71 and Portland actress Jacqueline Kohler get hot under their (nonexistent) collars in the roles of Nag and Nell in Samuel Beckett’s EndGame, directed by Roger Porter.